State v. Kiles

Decision Date15 April 1993
Docket NumberNo. CR-90-0106-AP,CR-90-0106-AP
PartiesSTATE of Arizona, Appellee, v. Alvie Copeland KILES, Appellant.
CourtArizona Supreme Court

CORCORAN, Justice.

Appellant Alvie Copeland Kiles (defendant) was convicted by a jury of three counts of first-degree murder, in violation of A.R.S. § 13-1105, and two counts of child abuse, in violation of A.R.S. § 13-3623. The trial judge sentenced defendant to death for each first-degree murder conviction and to consecutive 22-year terms of imprisonment for the child abuse convictions. In this automatic appeal, defendant challenges his death sentences, but he does not challenge his convictions. 1 See A.R.S. § 13-4033; rules 26.15, 31.2(b), and 31.15(a)(3), Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Ariz. Const. art 6, § 5(3), and A.R.S. §§ 13-4031, -4033.


The following issues are raised in this appeal:

1. Did the trial court err by allowing the state to prosecute defendant for knowingly committing first-degree murder during the guilt phase and then finding that defendant committed two of the murders in an especially cruel manner during the sentencing phase?

2. Did the trial court err by not listing in its special verdict each non-statutory mitigating circumstance it considered in determining whether to impose the death penalty?

3. Did the trial court incorrectly find that defendant's capacity to conform his conduct to the law was not significantly impaired?

4. Did the trial court incorrectly find that defendant murdered the victims in an "especially heinous, cruel or depraved" manner?

5. Did the trial court incorrectly find that defendant previously had been convicted of two crimes of violence?

6. Is the fact that defendant committed the murders during a domestic dispute a valid consideration in a proportionality review?


In January 1989, defendant began living with his girlfriend and her 5-year-old and 9-month-old daughters in Yuma, Arizona. 2 Approximately two weeks later, on February 9, 1989, defendant, who had a $200-$400/day cocaine habit, stole his girlfriend's purse and sold her food stamps to obtain money for cocaine. From mid-afternoon until about 11:00 p.m., defendant was away from the apartment. During that time, he injected the cocaine he purchased and some cocaine he received from friends; he also drank beer and gin.

Sometime after 11:00 p.m., defendant returned to his girlfriend's apartment, and they argued about his theft of her food stamps. At some point during this argument, defendant's girlfriend slapped him. When he told her not to hit him again, she responded by slapping him a second time. Defendant then left the apartment, got the jack stem out of his car, returned to the apartment, and hit his girlfriend with it, knocking her unconscious. When his girlfriend regained consciousness and asked him, "Why did you do that?", defendant proceeded to beat her to death with the jack stem. Defendant next turned the weapon on his girlfriend's children and killed them. Defendant then placed the children's bodies in plastic bags and threw them in the Colorado River. He left his girlfriend's body in the apartment.

The next day, defendant continued using cocaine. That afternoon, he began telling people about the murders. In his discussions with various individuals, defendant stated that he killed his girlfriend because she was "ragging" on him about the food stamps and he just "went off." He also stated that he killed the children because they were screaming and because they had seen him kill their mother.

Defendant eventually told 5 people about the murders, one of whom was his friend, Kale Johnson (Johnson). When Johnson did not believe his story, defendant took Johnson to his girlfriend's apartment. At the apartment, Johnson suggested that defendant call an ambulance because he thought the girlfriend was still alive. Defendant refused to call an ambulance, stated that his girlfriend was dead, and then stepped on her face while walking into a bedroom. Later, when Johnson ventured too close to the front door of the apartment, defendant broke a broom handle over Johnson's back and ordered him to stay away from the doors and windows. Defendant and Johnson then took several items from the apartment, some of which defendant later sold for cocaine. 3

Sometime later that night, defendant told his mother about the murders when he visited her at the Elks Lodge where she was working. After defendant left, his mother called the police to report the murders.

Physical evidence found at the girlfriend's apartment corroborated defendant's statements about the murders. Upon their arrival at the apartment in the early morning hours of Saturday, February 11, 1989, the police found defendant's girlfriend's body wrapped in a bedspread and laying in the hallway. The apartment was in total disarray, and there was a significant amount of blood in the living room and the two bedrooms. A portion of a bumper jack was found in one of the bedrooms. The two children were not found in the apartment.

The police arrested defendant in connection with the murders at approximately 8:30 a.m. the next morning at a friend's apartment, where he was found hiding under a bed.

The girlfriend's autopsy showed that she suffered extensive blunt trauma to the head, face, neck, upper extremities, and trunk. She had multiple lacerations and multiple skull fractures. In addition, all of her front teeth were shattered, she had a fractured right forearm, and she had two puncture wounds on the tip of her left elbow.

The body of the 9-month-old baby, clad only in a diaper, was found approximately one week later floating in a canal in Morelos, Mexico. The autopsy showed that the baby's skull was completely shattered, that she had a hole in her forehead, and that she had extensive skin lacerations.

The body of the 5-year-old child has not been found.

A Yuma County grand jury initially indicted defendant for first-degree murder of his girlfriend, first-degree murder of the 9-month-old baby, and child abuse of the baby. Two months later, a grand jury indicted defendant for first-degree murder and child abuse of the 5-year-old child. The two indictments were consolidated for trial.

Defendant did not confess to the police after he was arrested. Therefore, at trial, defendant's own extrajudicial admissions of guilt to various people provided the crucial evidence against him. Additional evidence presented by the state at trial included testimony by Edward Trujillo, a criminalist at the Arizona Crime Laboratory, who described the location in the apartment of blood stains from the identified victims (the girlfriend and the baby), as well as the location of blood stains from an unidentified victim. With regard to the unidentified blood stains, Robert Williams, Ph.D., who tested the blood stains from the unidentified victim and the blood of the 5-year-old child's father and deceased mother, testified that there was a 97.36% probability that the unknown blood stains originated from the missing 5-year-old child. In addition, Tom Bevel, a blood stain interpretation expert, testified that certain blood stains in the west bedroom of the apartment, previously identified by Edward Trujillo as coming from the baby, showed that 14 separate blows had been struck. Finally, Robert Mallon, M.D., the doctor who performed the autopsies, testified that the girlfriend's elbow puncture wounds and fractured right forearm were indicative of defensive wounds. He was unable to determine how many blows the girlfriend and the baby received or how long the girlfriend remained conscious during the attack. He did testify, however, that any one of several of the head blows received by the girlfriend and the baby could have been fatal.

The defendant did not testify at trial, nor did he present a defense. However, defense counsel did cross-examine witnesses about defendant's history of drug abuse and his drug intoxication around the time of the murders. The jury returned guilty verdicts on each charge against defendant.

At the sentencing hearing held pursuant to A.R.S. § 13-703(B), psychiatrist Alexander Don, M.D., testified on behalf of defendant. He diagnosed defendant as having an "adjustment disorder with depressed mood of mild to moderate intensity" and a mixed personality disorder consisting of narcissistic, paranoid and explosive features. He also testified that defendant had a constitutional predisposition for substance abuse and that defendant abused cocaine, alcohol, and heroin.

With regard to defendant's cocaine abuse, Dr. Don stated that a cocaine addict may experience "paranoia, suspiciousness, mistrust, loss of impulse control and, at its most extreme, a form of paranoid psychosis [in] which he loses contact with realities, [has] false beliefs, [and] sees and hears things not really there." This cocaine psychosis is indistinguishable from paranoid schizophrenia. Dr. Don found that defendant's craving for cocaine was so intense around the time of the murders that he could not resist using cocaine; but, Dr. Don also determined that at the time of the murders defendant did not suffer from paranoid delusions, loss of reality, neurological disfunction, or psychosis.

With regard to defendant's personality disorder, Dr. Don testified that defendant has "a tendency to mistrust, paranoia, thought psychosis, ... explosiveness, short temper and narcissism.... [Defendant] was not a well adjusted individual prior to the present circumstances." Although defendant was aware "of the nature and quality of his conduct as well as the wrongfulness of his conduct" at the time of the murders, Dr. Don concluded that "the combination of drug and disordered...

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